The Ugly - The Senate pulled an all nighter on Tuesday night. We started session at 9 AM on Tuesday and ended at 8:45 AM on Wednesday, just short of 24 hours. We continued to work on the budgets as the evening grew long and I’ve already reported on the Pro-Life bills that the Senate passed in yesterday’s blog so I’ll pick up from there.
A whole lot of political wrangling occurred throughout the night – please bear with me as I attempt to explain. As background, I need to discuss a “BIR”. The Budget Isolation Resolution, or BIR, is required each time we debate an item other than the budgets. The intent is to keep the legislature focused on passing the budgets. A super majority vote (2/3 members of each body) is required to pass a BIR, allowing further debate of a bill that does not deal with the budgets. Here’s where the political wrangling comes in…the House needed to debate and pass SB310, Tenure Reform on Wednesday. Rumor has it they have the simple majority votes to pass SB310 but not the super majority vote to pass a BIR allowing SB310 to come up for debate. To solve this problem, the Senate needed to pass the budgets, as once the budgets are passed there is no longer a requirement to pass a BIR, thereby solving the problem in the House...almost done, please stay with me!
So the Senate set out to pass the budgets; simply enough. The budgets had already passed each house but in different forms. The compromises made in the Conference Committee between the two house’s versions of the budgets were to be debated. However, in a “delay and defend” tactic, the Democrats asked that the budgets be “read at length”. We have an automated system that reads the bills but nonetheless the process to read the General Fund budget took four hours and the Education Fund budget is two hours.
Compounding things somewhat is another little tool called a “Quorum Call”. This entails a roll call, on the Senate floor 10 minutes after the request is made by any Senator. If a Quorum cannot be made the Senate automatically adjourns until the following day. An additional rule allows for a Quorum Call to be made only once every two hours. Still with me?
Okay – here’s how this all went down; in the middle of the night. The Senate started talking budgets late into the evening and realized if the Democrats requested that the bill be read at length we’d run out of day. So we purposely delayed until midnight, adjourned and reconvened at 12:01. Then we let the Ds make the request to have the budgets read…requiring 7 hours total. The Republicans called a Quorum Call every two hours to prevent the Ds from making the call. They actually ran from the chamber, not wanting to help us make a Quorum each time. Remember, if we can’t make a Quorum we automatically adjourn until 10 AM the following day. And so at 8:45 this morning our strategy paid off and both budgets passed the Senate. This opened the door for the House to take up SB310 this evening (being debated as I type this) without being blocked by the BIR process. I can’t help but share that in the Marine Corps we called tactics like this “Reindeer Games”…my patience is growing thin.
As luck would have it I had several committee meetings this morning. The early morning meetings were canceled but the mid-morning ones needed to be held. Fortunately, my first meeting was at 10:30; I got almost an hour and half of sleep!
The Good - AT-PRO received a favorable report out of the Education Budget committee. This bill has a long way to go but does the right thing with respect to doing what the original DROP program was intended to do. It has been a while since I talked on this bill. You can read about it on the March 29th Blog entry. In short, AT-PRO (SB303) follows what I understood to be the original intent of DROP, this bill is not intended as a supplemental retirement program. The intent is to incentivize a teacher who is nearing retirement to remain teaching in the classroom so that the school system can hire/transfer and train a replacement. This keeps a strong Math, Science, English, etc program in place in a school system. Key to the plan is a teacher has to be approved by the local board to participate in the plan and that upon completing, must retire. I support the intent of this bill and genuinely feel that support is growing in both the House and Senate.
The Bad…x2 – I had a tough day in committee hearings…lost two bills. The first bill that failed was a bill allowing patents limited, direct access to a physical therapist. This bill had traveled a very long, arduous road with skillful political maneuvering on both sides. I thank those that helped move this bill along. I realize there are other reasons why some may or may not have supported the bill but hey, it’s my blog. In my view, a person opposing this bill does so based on one of two things. One, they don’t think Alabama citizens are capable of making a decision of whether or not to go to a doctor or go to a Physical Therapist. Note, 47 other states allow residents some form of limited direct access to their Physical Therapist. The other reason, they are simply beholden to the wishes of the medical special interest groups in Montgomery who is protecting their clients. The bill failed with only 2 yes votes and 6 no votes, one abstention. The 2 yes votes were Republicans, the 6 no votes were split, 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats.
This was a great bill for me to carry as I learned a lot in the process. In the end I respect everyone’s position and final vote. I hope those that made early commitments to oppose the bill will not do so in the future (several waivered but stuck to their earlier commitments, opposing the bill) and I look forward to working with everyone to expand patient rights in Alabama. This is how healthcare reform needs to take place in America.
The second bill lost in committee today dealt with the law requiring posting of Legal Notices in local newspapers. This bill would allow municipalities and county commissions to publish Legal Notices via means other than the local newspapers such as the city/county website, on public bulletin boards at City Hall or County Courthouses, TV, etc. Under this bill, the city/county could determine to continue publishing Legal Notices in newspapers if desired. In my view, the law, as currently written is essentially an unfunded mandate. According to the estimates provided by city clerks, Huntsville budgets $130,000 annually to print legal notices in local papers. Let me be clear, this is not a “poke” at newspapers across the state (although some think this bill is the reason for the “anything but newsworthy” article Bob Lowry wrote yesterday – I don’t buy it). This bill simply allows those municipalities that choose to do so, to advertise Legal Notices in a more cost efficient manner. Simply put, $130,000 would do a lot for a municipal or county government’s budget but as the current law is written, they have no choice but to advertise Legal Notices in local newspapers. This bill did not have support in committee and a tabling motion was made…essentially killing it as the session winds to an end.
State Income Tax Deductable Safe Rooms? Another important bill that passed the Senate this evening was SB395. This best way to describe this bill is similar to a Health Insurance Savings Plan for your home. This bill allows an income tax deduction for a homeowner, not to exceed the lesser of 50% of retrofitting costs and improvements or $3,000 to homes to help withstand hurricanes and windstorms – to include tornados. This bill started life as a Coastal Insurance Bill – dealing only with the coastal area. An amendment allowed this bill to include all of Alabama after the recent tornados. And yes, you can build a safe room under this bill.